In the book of John, we find the statement that true worshipers of the Lord must worship Him in spirit and in truth. It is therefore often proposed that this means to worship God according to Emotions (spirit) and according to Doctrine (truth), but with an emphasis that Doctrine takes precedence over the Emotions. However, this “meaning” requires us to change the words of scripture (which is ironically done even by those who would demand word-for-word inerrancy of their Bibles). This “meaning” may not necessarily be the only meaning that is offered, but is this “meaning” actually conveying the idea of what is going on in the passage? As usual, context will help set the stage and should help us get much closer to what was actually being referred to when it was spoken.
In John 4, we have the account of the woman at the well. This woman was a Samaritan. Samaritans are sometimes referred to as “half-breads” because they were the product of Jew and Gentile parents. Recall that after King Solomon, there was a split of the Kingdom of Israel, where Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, took the southern portion, known as Judah, and Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, took the northern portion, known as Israel. Judah’s capital was Jerusalem, but Israel’s capital was Samaria. Both kingdoms didn’t fair to well in the end (having both been swept away into captivity), however, the northern kingdom certainly fared worse at a much quicker rate. The northern kingdom was constantly engaging in adopting pagan practices and trying to harmonize that with God. (You’ll see this referred to as “synergism” in the theological world, so if you ever want to study this aspect of Israel’s disobedience, search on that term). Part of this harmonization of pagan gods and rituals involved intermixing with the pagans themselves. Samaritans are just such a product of this kind of thing going on.
The Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerizim. Gerizim has some interesting purposes in the Old Testament, regarding Israel, however, after the captivity period had ended, the Samaritans built a worship temple upon Mt. Gerizim. In John 4:19-20, the Samaritan woman speaks of “this mountain” as being the place her fathers worshiped and therefore the Samaritans tied God to that mountain. The Jews, on the other hand, set their sights on Mt. Zion to be the holy mountain of God. This post isn’t designed to expound upon the reasons for this disagreement, but rather to explore the principle of this disagreement as it is at play in the verse we are attempting to understand – “worship him in spirit and in truth.”
The Samaritan woman brings up this fact in verse 20, however, the Lord’s response to her demonstrates that her focus is off. In other words, as verse 21 states, it isn’t Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Zion/Jerusalem that is the focus, for there will come a day when the Father will be worshiped from neither of those places. Christ wants the woman to realize her heritage nor her ancestral holy ground is not what God is after. In verse 22, Christ says that she worships what she doesn’t know but the Jews do worship what they know because salvation is of (out of) the Jews. If there is a mountain that is important, it would be the one associated with the people whom salvation is to propagate from. But, nonetheless, in verse 23, Jesus tells her that a time is coming, AND NOW IS, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in SPIRIT and TRUTH, for this is who the Father desires to worship Him.
In verse 25, we either have the woman recognizing her ignorance, or, she is displaying her obstinance. Personally, it seems to fit the narrative that she is being obstinate – in other words, she’s saying, “well, we’ll just need to wait for the Messiah to show up to clear this up (and, in the meantime, I still think I’m right)“. That’s when Christ tells her that He is the very One she speaks of (therefore, He knows what He is talking about). Christ is telling her flat out that it isn’t the location that matters, but the content. Is the worship of God according to spirit and truth? This would be decipherable regardless of physical locale. But, perhaps if worship is to be done in the spirit that the worship would happen in a spiritual locale?–say, IN CHRIST? …just something to think about.
How would one determine the content of their worship?
The word “worship” carries the idea that one is prostrating themselves in an act of reverence. (See 2Chronicles 7:3 for an example of this). Worship and reverence centers the mind on the fullness of God which naturally produces thanksgiving in the heart and mind of the believer. There is a peaceful assurance of His presence and His provision. The true worshipers of God are not those seeking ritualistic endeavors, regardless of what mountain they perform them from. The true worshipers of God are those whose hearts and minds are focused on the fullness of God and respond affirmatively and humbly thereto. Since God Himself is a Spirit, He desires the spirit of the believer to be in worship of Him – not physical/outward manifestations of religious charades, but of a contrite heart that expresses thanksgiving in all things because He is worthy to be praised. This is the truth of the matter – this is the worship of God in truth.
Of course, for the Samaritan woman, she had Spirit and Truth talking with her as Christ being the manifold expression of God’s person. Worshiping God in spirit and truth has nothing to do with establishing some proper balance between emotions and doctrine, but everything to do with a lifted eye towards Christ, from whom all blessings flow. The Samaritan woman need not look to Mt. Gerizim, but rather affix her eyes upon the Rock of Ages, for that is the desired worship of God.